The wildfires have burned about 5,800 hectares in California this year as the worsening drought in the southwestern United States, five times more territory than the same period in 2020.
It’s a troubling trend that has forced firefighters to take a proactive approach – from increasing funding for fire prevention to hiring more staff – after the state experienced the worst wildfire season in its history in 2020.
Just five months after the start of 2021, a total of 2,340 fires have taken place that have burned 5,803 hectares, an increase in 1,284 fires and 4,772 hectares compared to the same period last year, according to information from the Department of Forestry and Protection. California Fire, Cal Fire.
“We were able to keep most of the fires to a controllable size, but as we approach the peak of the fire season concerns grow,” said Jon Heggie, Battalion Chief at Cal Fire).
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The winter dry season coupled with worsening drought are raising concerns about another severe fire season. Last year alone, wildfires destroyed more than four million acres in California, which is equivalent to 4% of the entire state territory. Additionally, four of the largest wildfires in its history occurred last year.
At least 33 people were killed and more than 10,000 structures were destroyed in 2020, according to Cal Fire.
And according to the US Drought Monitor, more than 3% of California is now experiencing “extreme” drought conditions. About 15% of the state, including parts of the Sierra Nevada, are now under an “exceptional” drought, the highest category.
The Sierra Nevada snow cover, which normally provides a crucial reservoir of water for the state’s cities and agriculture in the hot summer months, has already begun to melt in the spring. Now, state statistics show that there is just 2% of normal snow cover for this time of year.
This decrease in snow cover means that there will be less water for rivers and dry forests vulnerable to fires.
Heggie said Cal Fire is taking a proactive approach to the increase in fires and that early actions by the governor and legislature have allowed firefighters to prepare more personnel for the season.
Governor increases resources to fight wildfires
On Monday, California Governor Gavin Newsom said he would double the projected state budget to prevent wildfires, bringing the figure to a record $ 2 billion.
When Newsom initially presented the budget, it included funds to accelerate 35 forest prevention projects. The additional funds will bring that number to 500 projects aimed at managing forest fires, he said.
Earlier this month, Newsom also expanded the drought emergency to nearly the entire state.
More firefighters and better equipment
The governor recently announced the creation of the Wildfire Task Force, a coalition of federal, state, and tribal leaders aimed at improving the condition of forests and reducing risks to communities.
The fire plan includes funds to hire additional firefighters, purchase 12 new helicopters and seven tankers. It also seeks to create a state center dedicated to forest fire coordination, similar to the National and Hurricane Center.
Cal Fire managed to add 1,399 firefighters to deal with the 2021 season, said Thom Porter, department director.
“In fact, we have more firefighters on the ground going into peak season than ever before,” Porter said. “And what that means is that we are diversifying our teams. While we have seen a reduction in recruits for our crew program, we have increased the number of seasonal firefighters to meet that need. “